Rescue Incident in Glacier Park Highlights Importance of Preparedness

By Beacon Staff

The successful rescue of two missing hikers in Glacier National Park is underscoring the importance of preparedness in the backcountry as well as the dedication and skill level of local search and rescue personnel, according to park officials.

“We are extremely pleased with the outcome of this incident, and perhaps we all can learn from this experience and these two men,” Glacier National Park Chief Ranger Mark Foust said in a statement.

Neal Peckens and Jason Hiser were found yesterday in good health after spending five unplanned nights in the backcountry of Glacier National Park. The two men, who were visiting from out of state, were planning to hike from the North Shore Trailhead at Two Medicine and camp at the Oldman Backcountry Campground on Oct. 9, according to park rangers.

After spending the night in a backcountry campground as planned, they continued on their 17-mile hike. They encountered winter conditions, including snow and very high wind gusts as they hiked a section of trail on a ridge along the Continental Divide. One of the hikers slipped and fell approximately 100 feet down a steep area. The two men tried to parallel their hike for a bit, one above and one below. They determined the best approach would be to stay together, to go down the mountain and perhaps try another route back up.

They had a quality map of the area but extreme wind gusts blew it out of their hands at one point. They continued down the mountain side and spent Wednesday evening in the Nyack Lakes area. They set up camp, including a fire.

On Thursday they started to hike back up the mountain by another route hoping to return in the direction they began, but weather conditions and mountainous terrain presented challenges. Considering their best options, they decided to travel down the wet and slippery terrain and wait for a break in the weather. They camped in this spot, near the headwaters of the Nyack Drainage at approximately 6,000 feet for the next four nights. They rationed their food, collected fire wood and materials to create a fire and smoke, turned their cell phones on during the day, displayed their space blanket for possible reflection during the day and used it to stay warn at night, and created a SOS message with logs.

“These hikers were prepared with appropriate equipment and they used their situational awareness skills to determine how to respond to the unexpected in the backcountry,” Foust said.

On Oct. 15, at around 3 p.m., two Glacier National Park employees were searching on foot when one of the searchers saw colored flagging that led him to a tent and the missing hikers. Peckens and Hiser were cold and wet, but in fairly good condition with no injuries.

“We are fortunate to have some very experienced and talented staff at Glacier National Park, as well as with our cooperators,” said Foust.

Foust credited the efforts of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, Flathead County Search and Rescue, North Valley Search and Rescue, Flathead Emergency Aviation Resources, US Border Patrol and the pilots at Minuteman Aviation for their assistance.

Glacier National Park is identified as one of the most beautiful places on earth, but can also be one of the most unforgiving. Changing weather, steep/difficult terrain and wildlife all contribute to the unique environment of the park. Without planning and awareness of an individual’s surroundings, accidents can happen.

Park staff are strongly encouraging visitors to plan for and enjoy all that Glacier National Park has to offer. This includes learning about the area you plan to visit, especially when traveling in the backcountry, and having the items you may need if the situation changes.

A standard recommendation for anyone that may be lost is to “STOP” and that is exactly what they did; Stop, Think, Observe and Plan.

Peckens and Hiser communicated their appreciation to the searchers and were ready to travel home with family and friends.